A War of Words Over U.S. Military Campaign
Caleb Tinbergen is correct in his assessment that Hollywood tends to overlook our past history of bombing civilian populations (“The Rarely Told Story of WWII,” Oct. 29). However, he then makes a giant leap, unsubstantiated by history, in suggesting that killing civilians “worked like a charm” though it was a “brutal way to win a war.”
Where is his evidence that killing 2.3 million German civilians won the war? In fact, the war was won by the Allied armies three years after the Allied bombs destroyed Dresden. One can make the exact opposite argument: The two-thirds of the population that did not vote for Hitler may have been reluctant to believe the Nazi teachings that the British were inhuman devils. After seeing their neighborhoods destroyed by British air raids, it must have been difficult to believe otherwise. One could argue that the tenacity of their teenage children recruits in fighting to the bitter end was the result of these civilian raids.
For the record:
12:00 AM, Nov. 15, 2001 FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 15, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 2 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Calendar letter--A letter on the Counterpunch page of the Nov. 5 Calendar section was incorrect in stating that World War II was won by the Allied armies three years after Allied bombs destroyed Dresden, Germany. Dresden was bombed in February 1945; Germany surrendered in May, and Japan followed in August that same year.
Tinbergen’s arguments that the ends justify the means can only lead to general immorality on all sides. Then it is only our superior military that makes us “superior” instead of our dedication to liberty, freedom and the highest principles of mankind.
Tinbergen correctly urges us to acknowledge the intentional targeting of civilian populations in Germany by Allied bombers during World War II. Unfortunately, he proceeds to analyze and justify these tactics by trotting out a sadly outdated and discredited set of myths.
The attacks on Germany’s civilians were indeed an attempt to destroy the enemy’s morale and economy, but the solid and honest scholarship of the past few decades has shown that this “brutal way to win a war” did not “work like a charm.”
Our air campaign over Germany was a tragic, bloody and confounding mix of bravery, sacrifice and pointless, unimaginable cruelty in the service of vengeance, a campaign that ended up as a strategic failure and a stunningly inefficient tactical maneuver.
The further, and perhaps equally disconcerting, truth is that one cannot effectively extrapolate from the circumstances of that very different war--with its entirely different technologies, terrain, opponents, tactics and objectives (both ours and our enemies’)--any inherently valuable strategic or tactical imperatives for modern conflicts.
We can and will attempt to use experience to inform our decisions, and that is why it is critical that we discard old and inaccurate readings of the historical record, no matter how difficult it may be to face the facts of our own errors and miscalculations.
I found Tinbergen’s Counterpunch interesting and partly agree with him: specifically the way our media propagandize America’s role, what he refers to as “sanitizing.”
He should, however, make a distinction between carpet bombing Germany and Japan, countries whose governments declared war and whose armies were engaged in military battles against the United States, and Afghanistan, whose government or “regime,” as we call it, has not declared war and whose army is not fighting us.
Afghanistan is only accused of “harboring” our latest Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, so we have begun to bomb that country. The situations are not parallel--except that we may be able bring down the Taliban by bombing the country at length.
Of course, that is not a clearly proven successful strategy, as we have been bombing Iraq for a decade and Saddam Hussein is still in power. So no clear answer as far as I am concerned, but some of us were hoping for a world court solution to a criminal act by criminals.
I vigorously differ with Tinbergen as to what brought Germany to its knees. It was the Russian army advancing on Berlin after obliterating the Wehrmacht with tanks and infantry and in so doing cutting off the vital supplies of oil, natural gas, and resources to maintain a war machine; it was the defeat of German Gen. Erwin Rommel in Africa, which cut off the Middle East resources; and it was the onslaught of the American infantry eventually pushing in from the west.
The untold story of WWII are the generals who, to this day, say sending young men to their deaths in airplanes and killing civilians without mercy was the proper and correct choice. Unfortunately, the legacy of those generals lives on, and their sons and students trained at West Point, at Annapolis and the Air Force Academy try to convince us now that bombing from high altitude without seeing the destruction you sow is a good thing. That’s a legacy we can do without and a story that does, in fact, need to be told.
Finally, someone with some sense of reality is commenting on the surgical strikes. How can we sway countries like Yemen or Iraq with our delicate definition of war? I hope Tinbergen forwards his piece to our president and every member of Congress.
If only Tinbergen would broaden his horizons. Instead of setting his moral compass by the wholesale bombing of WWII, he should go back to World War I.
Early in that war, when zeppelins were just starting their nightly raids on London, Bernard Shaw warned that Germany might widen its aerial attacks. He wrote to the Times of London to urge that air-raid shelters be built for schoolchildren. The Times’ editors responded by roundly berating Shaw for daring to suggest that a civilized nation like Germany would stoop so low as to bomb civilians from the air.
To suggest that this moral indignation arises from the failings of Hollywood is to slander the decency of humans everywhere. It is an intrinsic part of our humanity to take offense at massacres of innocents. If anything, what blunts this outrage is a climate of acquiescence in which neither the news nor entertainment media have the guts to challenge a war machine guilty of such atrocities.
The moral indignation that Tinbergen views as a casualty of war is our most precious commodity as humans. It is exactly what separates us from those who turn jetliners into bombs that kill secretaries and waiters. To surrender that, in our rage-blinded desire to “defeat” them, is to hand them a moral victory. In any case, it was never Hollywood that created the impression that “good wars” are fought in a “good” way. History shows us that that is exactly how wars were traditionally fought. Leaving behind their women and offspring, armies of grown men went out to meet in battlefields far removed from their homes. Those who put their lives at the greatest risk were the leaders who marched at their head. Compare that with how wars are fought today. The leaders hole up in mountain caves or Oval Offices that are as impregnable as modern ingenuity can make them, while their followers, many barely out of their teens, are recruited to go off and slaughter each other, along with any women and children who get in the way.